Teens, PWBA Champ Hanging Tough in U.S. Open Field

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BY DENNIS BERGENDORF     

Most competitors in the field will likely agree on one thing: there’s really nothing that can prepare a bowler for the US Open. Not the PWBA tour (even its majors), not PBA regionals, not even Team USA Trials. “The US Open is just hard. Every pattern is so hard,” says women’s star Maria José Rodriguez, who adds, “I feel like the idea is to make you uncomfortable. Nothing can prepare you for this.”

There’s only one way to get ready for the grind, and that’s to “just bowl this tournament.” This wasn’t the first time Rodriguez has bowled the PTQ, but she made the most of it, finishing in fourth place. “I just wanted to stay patient and have clean games. That’s it.”

The winner of the 2014 USBC Queens and the 2018 PWBA Tour Championship, Rodriguez continued bowling well in the first block Tuesday, posting a 1628. But six sub-200 games Wednesday derailed the Colombian star, at least temporarily. 

She isn’t the only woman competing in Indianapolis. So is teen sensation Jillian Martin. “It’s a little intimidating going up against the guys. But I’m up to the challenge,” she says. Martin rolled 225 the last PTQ game to squeak into the main event by a mere seven pins.

Not a bad showing for someone who arrived in Indy less than 12 hours before the PTQ began. She had been in Euless, Texas, winning the PBA Jr. National girls championship (beating Kayla Starr).

Martin is the youngest competitor in the US Open, but a couple of guys aren’t much older, in fact Brandon Caruso is only a few weeks her senior (both are 17). And the PTQ’s last qualifier, Deo Benard, is 18 now. He made history when he became the youngest PBA member ever to win a regional, the 2020 South Point West Challenge.

Caruso competed in this year’s Team USA Trials, but didn’t do very well, finishing 26th. The US Open PTQ was more productive, as he made the cut by five pins. Going into the final game, he knew he was close. “I just wanted to finish out, and that’s where all my energy went at the time.”       

On Tuesday, he rolled 1623 in the first block of the championship, despite coming out of the gate with 173 and 189. “Starting off slow is never fun, but I was able to get back up, and then just controlled what I could control.”

In fact, that’s one of the pieces of advice he gives to other teenagers who compete on the professional stage. “Pick up your spares, and control what you can control. Stay mentally focused, and stay in the moment.” 

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